Students in Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools will potentially be kept to small groups in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19 when they return to the classroom this fall.
According to the plan, each cohort would be a group of students and staff who remain together to try to decrease the number of close contacts a case of COVID-19 would have in a school. It’s also meant to help public health officials in their efforts to trace contacts and contain an outbreak. The school division says those efforts would be in addition to social distancing when possible.
Despite actively planning for a ‘near-normal’ return to classrooms, school district officials say they continue to plan for scenarios two and three, which include a partially reopening with additional health measures, or the continuation of at-home learning if needed.
“Keep them together, keep them as a group. In high school it’s going to be a little different because it will be a bigger group, but that’s the initial plan,” says GPCSD Board Chair Michael Ouellette.
Both Ouellette and Superintendant Karl Germann say the reopening strategy remains a “living document” with all potential changes being taken into consideration, which is meant to leave the division in a good place to make adjustments if needed.
“It’s just going to be a moving target until we can figure out exactly what works best in the school and in the classroom and get some feedback from principles and teachers because they’re front line and will be able to tell us what’s working and what’s not,” Ouellette adds.
All students and staff will be required to wear non-medical masks in common areas and classrooms to begin the year. Hand sanitizer will also be placed at all building entrances, as well as the entranceway to each classroom. A minimum expectation of hand hygiene will include washing or sanitizing at least three times each day.
Ouellette says prior to the re-opening of the classrooms, they hope to get an answer from the provincial government when it comes to the protocols if a positive case of COVID-19 gets reported in one of the district schools. He adds they are hoping to get an idea as to what the threshold of case numbers before a school may have to close again.
“We don’t’ know [if it’s] one, is it 20, we do not know that yet. We will be talking with the ministry next week on that subject exactly to try and figure it out.”
Safety shields will also be provided to all staff who require them, but masks will still be required under the shields. It’s expected parents and students will receive one more update on the reopening of classrooms on August 24th.